Another Saturday and I’m up at 4AM so Mike and I can make our 4th Annual Goose Pond Fourth of July Trip looking for species not usually seen in the Johnson County area – MARSH WREN, LEAST BITTERN, LEAST TERNS, COMMON GALLINULE, and BLACK-NECKED STILTS.
The weather cooperated but the habitat, not so much. Unlike past years the water level was low providing limited habitat for Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules. And where there is water, vegetation has grown to the water’s edge giving limited shorebird access. Compare this year’s photos to last years, when the water level was higher.
And enough habitat around to make the day enjoyable.
The highlight of the day was finding other shorebirds besides the Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer.
All in all, our Annual Goose Pond Trip was good though it was quieter than years past. We missed on Least Bittern and Common Gallinule, plus no Bell’s Vireo or Sedge Wrens. Hopefully the heavy rain predicted for today will help bring some of the habitat back to life.
After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.
But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.
The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.
While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.
I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.
There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.
I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.
I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind. The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.
Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.
A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.
I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.
I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.
I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.
My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.
If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.
This might seem sacrilegious on a birding blog, but I’m glad fall migration is about over. I’ll miss viewing the vireos, thrushes, and shorebirds as they move through.
But not warblers.
It’s not that I can’t ID warblers. That’s not the problem. It’s just that they never seem to give a good look. Just a quick view and they move on. Even sparrows cooperate better.
And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.
I have never developed the love of the bright warblers that others have. Yes, most are usually stunning when you can get a glimpse of one. But the time and effort and brief look is usually not worth the half-second glance.
I have decided over the years that taking a few hours on a Saturday morning in the vain attempt to see warblers is just not as satisfying as viewing larger birds. I see why people specialize in gulls or hawks. They usually give a good long, look. And with gulls there are usually numerous ones sitting out in the open to check out.
Even American Robins or Eastern Bluebirds are more welcome as they sit for a few minutes in a tree, well exposed. Or most woodpeckers, a bird that usually sits out in the open.
But not the singular warbler darting through the undergrowth. Just not that fun.
Maybe if I was more of a lister this would be important. Taking the time to make sure I get a warbler for a list might make the time spent looking worth it.
So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.
During the Indiana Audubon Big May Day Bird Count there is historically a lack of shorebirds in Johnson County. That is not surprising since the county is basically an urban area with some farmland. Not much habitat for shorebirds.
But I know a few spots that might have water and can usually turn up a few shorebirds. Last year on the count I found GreaterYellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers down by Edinburgh.
But this year there was a lack of rain leading up to the count. Mike and I had found some shorebirds in April but those spots were in farm fields and had dried up by the day of the count.
So when the group met at lunch it was no surprise that the only shorebirds found in the morning were Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper. And only a couple of each. I had struck out on the two main productive sites since they were dry. So I decided to work my way home stopping by about ten spots that I knew could hold shorebirds. If they were holding water.
Of the ten spots four were dry. Six of the spots had small amounts of water and all had shorebirds, either Spotted Sandpiper or Killdeer. So I was still no further ahead except for a good count on the Spotties.
The last place I stopped was a spot I had discovered a few weeks previously. It was by a new building site and eventually it would be a retaining pond but for now it held a small amount of water. And in this case no Spotted Sandpipers but Killdeer and four Least Sandpipers.
At first I thought they were Pectoral Sandpipers. But they were much smaller next to the Killdeer.
So I am glad I found them since I had run out of places to search. But it makes one ask, how much habitat has been lost for migrating shorebirds?
I’m always preaching to do more reading and studying in case an uncommon bird shows up in your local area. And make sure to travel to an area with “your” uncommon birds so you can learn its field marks, songs, and habitats. I should follow my own advice.
Sunday while observing shorebirds, yes we finally got shorebirds (that’s next), I kept hearing a warble song in the distance. The area I was observing shorebirds is distant from any trees but there was no wind so I figured it was distant House Finches. I heard the sound off and on for about an hour. I also heard the rattle of Horned Larks calling and moving about the corn stubble plus a rattle call that I was attributing to distant Red-winged Blackbirds.
I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this. Still not catching on I see a group of birds fly up and out of the corn/grass stubble across the water. And they sure aren’t acting like Horned Larks. So were they Smith’s Longspurs? If I had done more study up front, I would have known their calls better and if they sing their warble song during migration. If I would have traveled to Western Indiana I would have been familiar with their calls and habitat.
But I hadn’t done my homework so I will never know for sure if they were or not.
2. As noted above we finally had shorebirds
We also had a lot of rain, which means a lot of water in the fields. I think I have noted this before, but don’t waste a lot of time checking every field with water. Do a quick check and keep moving.
Because shorebirds tend to use the same flooded fields.
Since I am still relatively new to the area I give a quick check to every flooded field. But just like back in Illinois the shorebirds use the same flooded fields, not any new ones. So just like an area good for migrants, I basically just check the same flooded fields.
I have seen it hypothesized that fields that retain water, usually because of damaged drainage tiles, give off that “ozone” or dying vegetation smell that birds can detect. Or they just remember which ones retain water like they do other locations. Who knows for sure?
3. Sitting and Waiting versus Getting Up and Going
The case of Smith’s Longspurs in #1 above got me thinking about birding by sitting and waiting or moving from spot to spot. Since we don’t get that many shorebirds in Johnson County I was taking my time and watching the shorebirds. I didn’t go to the other 2 areas I know might have shorebirds.
If I had moved on I would have missed out on the maybe Smith’s Longspurs. But maybe there would have been other shorebirds at other locations? So is it better to sit and wait?
I knew a birder that during migration would find a good area with warblers moving through. He would find a break in a tree line, open up his folding chair, and sit and wait. The rest of the group would make the usual walk and come back and compare. He often would have just as many species, and often something we missed.
So is it better to sit and wait or keep moving. Probably depends. But as humans I think we are driven to the latter – a need to keep moving.